Friday, January 9, 2009

Why Baseball Doesn't Need a Salary Cap

This post was inspired by a very well-written post by Mike of High and Tight, which can be found here. It's worth your time.


In the past decade, both the NBA, in the forms of the Spurs and the Lakers, and the NFL, in the form of the Patriots, have seen "dynasties"; that is, teams winning, year after year.

Both leagues have had a salary cap for that time span, if not longer.

The NHL also has a salary cap, but as it was only implemented a few years ago, it's still too soon for any conclusive remarks.

Baseball, on the other hand, has no salary cap. Every single person reading this post right now probably knows that. Still, in the last decade, only the Red Sox have won multiple World Series--and not consecutively, either.

In 2007, the Tampa Bay Rays finished last in the AL East.
In 2008, the Tampa Bay Rays went to the World Series.

Sure, the method of losing for nine years in a row, taking the first round draft picks and then building a contender is something many teams probably want to avoid, but the points remain: a) it's possible to build a winning team out of a perennial doormat, b) you don't need gigantic contracts to do so, and c) smart ownership and general managing is much more important how much the ownership spends.

Lucky for baseball, there are a lot of smart GMs and owners out there.

Okay, so there are a few that we like to pretend don't exist (I'm looking at you, Pete Angelos), but consider that in the past ten years the following teams have made the playoffs, including a one-game playoff scenario: (+ denotes at least one World Series appearance)

Diamondbacks +
Angels +
Giants +
Rockies +
Marlins +
Rays +
White Sox +
Red Sox +
Tigers +
Cardinals +
Yankees +
Mets +
Phillies +
Astros +

That means that a grand total of seven teams in the league--Orioles, Nationals, Rangers, Blue Jays, Royals, Reds, Pirates--have not appeared in the playoffs in the last decade.

With the Orioles and Nationals, of course, there is a recent history of sordid ownership, and while the Royals and Reds have not had much recent success, both teams have a core of young players that will, quite possibly, make the teams much more competitive in the very near future.

A sweeping majority of teams have made the postseason at least once--many more than that--and a variety of teams have made World Series appearances, as well. If that type of scenario, or a scenario where a team like Tampa can go from worst to first, or, like the Mariners, from first to worst, does not speak for parity, then I'm not sure what does.

The idea of a salary cap, at least as presented to the casual fan, is to level the playing field, so to speak, right?

Well, baseball seems to have a fairly level playing field as it is!

You can't use basketball or hockey to argue that a variety of teams appearing in the playoffs is a moot point, because in those two sports, half of the teams in each conference make the playoffs, and once in, strange things can happen. In baseball, however, only four teams per league make the playoffs-meaning that your team has to be that much better to get in.

Heck, all you have to do is remember that .500 basketball gets you a playoff spot in the NBA Eastern Conference. In baseball, last year, that would have gotten you contention in the NL West for half the season, at least before the Dodgers got Manny, and nowhere close to the Wild Card.

Yes, it's true, teams like the Yankees, Red Sox and Mets spend more than the GDPs of many smaller nations, but the important question to ask is what they spend it on.

All three teams spend the money they have on their team, and while we Yankee fans might lampoon the moves that the Red Sox and the Mets make, the fact is that the intent is to build a winning team, to entice players to come to Boston or New York, and not steer them away because the owners don't feel like paying for marquee talent.

That said, the plethora of teams that have seen success in the past decade illustrates that smart management and smart player development means just as much, if not more, than signing big free agent contracts.

To be completely honest, however, as incoherent as my argument may be (it's 2 AM, after all), there is one thing that shouldn't escape your mind: If the 2008 World Series saw the Phillies taking on the Rays, there is really no logical argument to be made that only the rich teams have a chance.

As much as we might get disgusted at the giant player contracts, or, in the case of some of us Yankee fans, revel in them, the truth is that baseball is surviving quite well without a salary cap.

A salary floor, however, is an entirely different argument--and for a different day.

1 comment:

  1. The owners that are complaining about the salary cap are the same ones that are taking all of their revenue sharing money and pocketing it. They, like the Steinbrenners, can put their money back into the team but choose not to.